Henderson Connections
Descendants of William Lee Henderson and Eleanor Ann Selina Shelby
From the unpublished book written by Vivian Anderson Castleberry

Historical Marker Application

Kerin’s Note: Vivian Anderson Castleberry wrote the following report as part of the application process for the Bethesda Church and Cemetery historical marker in Lindale, Texas, in 1993. I asked her to tell me a little more about it, and here is her story, via e-mail, July 2014:

After I chaired the first International Women’s Peace Conference in Dallas in 1988, I spent the next couple of years traveling to and from Russia and being very involved in the peace movement. Then I tried moving to the lake to be with your grandfather and his mother and at the time became the “matriarch” of my mother’s East Texas family. I enlarged the annual reunions, wrote and mailed a newsletter which I called “The Now and Then Henderson Herald,” and interviewed cousins galore who still lived in the area for their word-of-mouth memories.

At some point along the way I determined that the Bethesda Cemetery should have a state historical marker and began to accumulate information to make it happen. Your grandfather got very involved along with me. He and I made countless trips from the lake house in Chandler to Bethesda in Lindale. We walked and rewalked the cemetery, using what few existing records we could find to determine grave sites.  

I asked for and received information from the State Historical Association about securing a marker. I was told by several people with whom I conferred that receiving a marker was not easy and that nobody they knew had received one on the first try. I read and reread the requirements and began to write and edit the document that you have. I crossed every “t” and dotted every “i,” mailed the papers and waited.

Eureka! It all came together in late 1993 or early 1994 when we received word that we had been approved—and on our first try!—and we dedicated the marker that year at the annual family reunion and Bethesda Memorial Services. The oldest surviving individual from each of the original “children” who settled in the area unveiled the marker.

The Application





Bethesda Presbyterian Church was established in 1879 by members of the Henderson family shortly after they arrived in East Texas from Perry County, Alabama.[1] The new arrivals were William Lee (January 4, 1808 to December 10, 1883) and Eleanor Ann Selina Shelby Henderson (November 27, 1817 to October 8, 1900), all nine of their adult sons and daughters, a few other family members and one family of their friends. After their first worship services, they petitioned the East Texas Presbytery for permission to make official what they had already established.

In the fall of 1880 the Presbytery granted the request and a committee composed of the Rev. W. R. McLelland and Elders J. M. Shelby and Thomas Niblack were appointed as the committee. They met first in the fall of 1880, and on March 26, 1881, the church was officially recognized as the Lindale Presbyterian Church.[2]

Its name was changed to Bethesda in 1885, in honor of a church by the same name the family had established in Perry County, Alabama.[3]

Charter members were Wm. L. (William Lee) Henderson, E. S. (Eleanor Selina) Henderson, S. J. (Sarah Jane) Henderson, F. S. (Franklin Smith) Henderson, W. T. (William T.) McGahey, M. E. (Martha Elizabeth Henderson) McGahey, Lilly McGahey, (James Milton) McGahey, Viola Dobbins, Thomas A. Love, Frances A. Love (spelled Jas. Francis on the records), J. A. (Joseph Asmon) Henderson, Mrs. S. J. (Samantha Jane LaGrone) Henderson, Hugh C. Henderson and Mrs. Hugh (Martha Elizabeth) Henderson.[4] The first 10 transferred letters from the Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Heiberger, Alabama, and the latter six moved their letters from the First Presbyterian Church in Tyler, which had been organized April 3, 1870.

Committeeman J. M. Shelby had also been a key person in the organization of the Tyler church.[5] He was doubly related to the Hendersons. He was Eleanor’s brother (they were the son and daughter of Moses and Mary Ann Knox Shelby) and his wife, the former Amanda Ann Henderson, was William’s sister. (They were the daughter and son of John Lee I and Ann Sample Henderson).

William L. Henderson and his oldest son, Joseph A. Henderson, were named elders, the father previously ordained and the latter ordained and installed. Thomas A. Love and F. S. Henderson were elected, ordained and installed as deacons.[6]

“The church was then declared fully equipped for duty and the blessing of the Holy Trinity invoked upon it.” [7]

Bethesda Church and cemetery are located 4.2 miles northeast of Lindale, on FM 2710 on property donated by Mary Amanda Henderson McGahey Dobbins, oldest child of the Hendersons, and by William Daniel Henderson, eighth of the Hendersons’ nine daughters and sons.[8] The church and cemetery received additional property in 1985 from the heirs of William Daniel Henderson.[9]

Immediately following the organization of the church, Franklin Smith Henderson told his father that the family should establish a cemetery. At age 21 and a newly installed deacon, Franklin was the youngest of the Henderson children. In a strange quirk of fate, he died on October 15, 1881, before the cemetery could be laid out. He was buried on the Henderson property and his grave, fenced and tended by his brothers, became the nucleus of Bethesda cemetery, which from the first was a community burial place.[10]

No records exist of the first house of worship, but notes by Rev. Thomas Ward White, evangelist of the Presbytery, during the summer of 1895, provide this information:

“All the members, with perhaps one exception, are children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of one family, which moving to Texas in December of 1879, erected a shelter and obtained the service of a shepherd.” [11]

On July 14, 1895, a new house of worship had been completed and was dedicated. With minor additions and improvements, all of which are in meticulous congruity with the original structure, the house of worship remains in 1993 exactly what it was in 1895.

The original building was 48 (evidence is that this figure is erroneous and should, instead, be 68) by 32 by 14 feet in dimension and was described as “one of the largest and most commodious houses of worship in Eastern Texas. It was capable of “comfortably seating no less than 300 persons.” Both the building and the pews cost “about $600,” all of which was paid before the dedication services.[12] The plans and the construction of the church and the design and building of the pews were done by family members, most of whom were—and continue to be—talented carpenters and wood workers.

“The exterior is painted white and, situated in the midst of a beautiful grove of oaks, is quite attractive as you approach from any direction,” the Rev. White wrote of the original structure.[13]

The same remains true after almost 100 years. The church has always been white, has been carefully maintained and continues to function. It is painted every three to five years. The additions include (1) a small covered porch on the front braced by square columns topped with white grillework completed in 1939–40,[14] (2) indoor plumbing, two bathrooms, a small kitchen and three Sunday School rooms added at the back of the church in 1959,[15] and (3) air conditioning installed in 1990. [16]

Understanding the need, very early, for the church and cemetery to function as separate entities, a cemetery association was organized on May 23, 1905. [17] The minutes of its first meeting reveal:

“The community interested in the semetery met and after cleaning off the yard all agreed to work the yard by taxation and went in to election of officers: J. M. Henderson, Pres; H. C. Crews, Sect-tr.; J. M. Hicks, T. C. Pierce, W. S. Cole, E. L. Howard, W. J. Wadell, comitie. The comitie imployed F. L. Starnes to superentend the work on the yard at one and 50 cts per day.”

Thus, John Madison Henderson, William Lee and Eleanor Selina’s seventh child and second son, became the founding president of the Bethesda Cemetery Association. Since then, the presidents and committee members have been representative of the larger community.

When the association was formed, nine family members, most of them founders of the church and cemetery and other founding members already lay in their graves—Franklin Smith Henderson in 1881; Thomas A. Love in 1882; William T. McGahey in 1883; Jesse Edwin Crews in 1883; William Lee Henderson in 1883; Hugh C. Henderson in 1885; Frances A. Love in 1893; Joseph Asmon Henderson in 1895; Martha Elizabeth Henderson McGahey in 1896; Samantha Jane LaGrone Henderson-Taft in 1896 and Eleanor Ann Selina Shelby Henderson in 1900. [18] 

All but two of the original adult Hendersons and their spouses who migrated from Alabama to Texas in 1879 are buried at Bethesda. Mary Amanda Henderson Dobbins (whose first husband, John F. McGahey, was killed in the Civil War) and her husband, Uriah B. Dobbins, moved to Indian Territory and are both buried in Wynnewood Cemetery in Oklahoma. [19] Margaret Isabelle Henderson Arendell and her husband, John Wesley Arendell, moved to Central Texas and are buried in the Gause, Texas, cemetery. [20]

Family member founders of the church, their spouses, in addition to those who were deceased when the association was formed, who are buried at Bethesda are Martha Jane Vining Henderson, wife of John Madison Henderson, who died in 1913; Elizabeth Rebecca Isadora Mitchell Perkins Henderson, wife of William Daniel Henderson, who died in 1922; Mary Elizabeth Henderson, wife of Hugh C. Henderson, who died in 1925; Harriet Caroline Henderson Crews, who died in 1929; William Daniel Henderson, who died in 1929; Henry Calvin Crews, husband of Sarah Jane Henderson Crews, who died in 1929, John Madison Henderson who died in 1939 and Sarah Jane Henderson Crews who died in 1941. [21]

The Bethesda Cemetery Association has been administered and operated solely on freewill contributions. It has never charged anyone for burial space. It has held a meeting annually since 1905 and elected officers who administer all policies.

The financial report on May 31, 1993, showed a balance of $48,573.81. [22]

In the early years, the cemetery was cared for by community and family members. Once each year, on the Thursday following the third Sunday in July, everybody gathered to “work” the cemetery, hold its annual meeting and enjoy each other’s company. At noon, a picnic was spread on tables under the oak trees. In 1964, because of changing lifestyles—many interested people had moved away and could not leave their jobs to return to Bethesda on a weekday—the annual meeting was moved to the second Sunday in June. At the beginning of the association, some of the heavy work—mowing and watering—was done by paid individuals. For the past 28 years Roy Whan Shores, a great-grandson of Harriet Caroline Henderson Crews, has chaired the committee administering the “yard work.”

Improvements in the cemetery have been made by interested volunteers, the actual out-of-pocket expenses paid by the association. For many years Emmett Henderson, in honor of his parents, Hugh C. and Mary Elizabeth Henderson, provided landscape expertise and plantings from the nursery he owned in Athens. [23] In 1953 a beautification committee composed of Nora Fleming Mallory, Mae Kimerly, Hattie Lou Hall, and Helen Crews Shores erected a chain link fence with an arched gate around the cemetery, total cost $978.50. [24]

The association meeting, a worship service, reminders of those who have been buried in the past year combine to make the second Sunday in June special for those who attend from many points in Texas and several other states. Many surviving family members roam among the tombstones; some place flowers on the graves of their deceased members. At noon, under the spreading oaks, survivors continue to spread lavish lunches on three 45-foot-Iong concrete tables, to recall past good times and plan for the future. Past oversights and hurt feelings dissolve in the camaraderie of the day.

On the world’s wide stage, the founding of Bethesda Presbyterian Church and the Bethesda Cemetery Association in East Texas may be negligible. But, in a larger sense, it is the presence and actions of such institutions through the individuals who belong to and administer them that are the foundation, fabric, functions and faith indigenous to a great United States of America.

What was the world like back then? It was a slower-paced universe, but even then straining toward explosive growth and creativity in the soon-to-arrive Twentieth Century.

In 1879, while the Hendersons were bringing all of their worldly possessions from Alabama to Texas in a train of five wagons, Ibsen wrote “A Doll’s House,” a play that continues to impress and impact audiences. A new poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, gave the world “Travels with a Donkey,” Renoir painted “Mme. Charpentier and her Children.” In Berlin, the first electric tram was exhibited and London got its first telephone. Albert Einstein was born and in Oslo, Norway, the first large-scale skiing contest was held. And in Russia, two men who would dominate the future world scene, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, were born. [25]

In 1890, when the newly arrived Smith County Hendersons were buying property, planting their first crops and establishing Bethesda, James A. Garfield was elected president of the United States. The “Uncle Remus” children’s stories, written by J. C. Harris, were introduced and Lew Wallace wrote the all-time epic, “Ben Hur.” Helen Keller, blind and deaf from an early age, was born to become one of the world’s most significant educators and writers. Rodin completed “the Thinker,” a world-renowned sculpture. Thomas A. Edison and J. W. Swan independently devised the world’s first practical electrical lights and New York City hastened to be the first city to install electric street lighting. Pasteur developed a cholera vaccine; Andrew Carnegie developed the first steel furnace. Canned foods first appeared on grocery store shelves. Parcel post was introduced in England and bingo was developed from an Italian lottery game. [26]

Doubtless, the teetotaling, non-gambling, Presbyterian Hendersons, if they knew about the game at all, considered it the work of the devil.

In 1881 when the first grave was mounded on the Henderson property for their young son, Franklin Smith, President Garfield had been dead for 26 days, after being shot by an assassin. In that year, the Vatican archives were opened to scholars for the first time, Pablo Picasso was born, Monet painted “Sunshine and Snow,” Brahms wrote his famous “Academic Festival Overture,” and the Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions was formed. [27]

In the South, the Civil War was over, but devastation and bitterness lingered. The Hendersons’ two oldest daughters, Mary Amanda and Martha Elizabeth, had lost young husbands fighting for the Confederate States of America, two among the 646,392 casualties of the Civil War. Mary Amanda’s second husband, Uriah B. Dobbins, had returned from his CSA service.

The Bethesda Presbyterian church the Hendersons and their neighbors founded in Perry County, Alabama, was devastated by the sudden removal of exactly half of its active participants when 29 men, women and children moved to Texas. It never recovered from this exodus and on October 4, 1900, Presbytery dissolved the church. In 1904 the building burned. [28] The only remnant of the past thriving place of worship is the Bethesda/Wallace Cemetery high on a weed-covered hill not far from Heiberger in northern Perry County where the locked post office hovers among the brambles, business buildings are abandoned and only a smattering of houses suggest that it once was a thriving community.

Many families in the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina hung CWT signs on their homes in the days of post civil-war and reconstruction. The Hendersons, who were cautious as well as concerned about advancement for the family, made careful plans and did not lightly post a “Gone to Texas” sign. The oldest son, Joseph Asmon and his wife, Samantha Jane, came first to Texas, in 1874, joining the Shelbys and LaGrones, his parents’ brother and sister and her grandparents. They canvassed the territory and selected the near-Lindale site where the family could build homes, establish a place of worship and put down roots.

The Lindale area was a propitious choice. The International and Great Northern Railroad had announced its intention to lay a line though the area that would open it to the world. The woods were full of wild game, the Sabine River full of catfish. The land was virgin, eager for fruit crops that would soon grow prolifically—berries of all kinds, peaches, pears, apples, watermelons, cantaloupe; vegetables of every description. The men farmed the land growing the cotton that they had learned about in Alabama, and corn for the livestock. It would be some years before succeeding generations would learn about diversified agriculture and would turn their parcels of inherited property into cattle raising.

Now, annually, a Henderson family reunion held on the Saturday preceding the second Sunday of June, so that family descendants who come from faraway places can be present for both the family reunion on Saturday and Memorial Services on Sunday. In 1992, 90 people attended the reunion. In 1993, 128 were present. Several of the 1993 participants came for the first time because the family reunion was held in Lindale where many still reside. [29]

In East Texas, almost every other state of the union and into the world the Hendersons continue to populate the earth to the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and now the eighth generations. One eight-generation Henderson family in Texas through the oldest daughter includes (1) William Lee and Eleanor Ann Selina Shelby Henderson (both deceased); (2) Mary Amanda Henderson and John F. McGahey, (both deceased); (3) James Milton McGahey and Alice Sophia Way McGahey (both deceased); (4) Linnie Pearl McGahey Kennedy and James Grady Kennedy (both deceased); (5) Eunice Sybil Kennedy McKay and Bennie Clyde McKay (he is deceased); (6) Sandra Joy (7) Kathryn Lynn and (8) Tiffany Renee. [30]

The cemetery is the resting place of numerous men who served their country during wars. Three veterans of the Confederate States of America—William S. Cole, William H. Lyons, and Thomas Spencer—are buried at Bethesda. Eight veterans of World War I and 19 of World War II are buried there. [31]

Henderson family members excel in almost every career and profession, many unaware of their connections back to the Hendersons of Bethesda. They continue to be law-abiding, service-oriented and community contributing. They are or have been involved in careers that include every letter of the alphabet from A to Z: agriculture and armed services, business, banking and barbering, carpentry and communications, dairying and dentistry, education and electrical work, foreign enterprise, geology, health, industrial development, jurisprudence, kibitzing (they are very good at that!), labor and law, manufacturing, mechanics and the ministry, nursing and news reporting, office management and oratory, photography and psychology, quilting, real estate, singing, secretaries and sales, travel consulting, utility company employees and university students, victualers, woodworkers and waitresses, youth counselors and zoologists.

Kerin’s Note: Following this report in the application was a section labeled “Family Contributions” which introduced a few currently-living members of the family and told more about their lives, families, and careers. I have not included it here for privacy.

[1]       Henderson, William Daniel, Journal, Nov. 9, 1879—Nov. 28, 1879, from Heiberger, AL, to Vicksburg, MS.
[2]       Department of History (Montreat), The Presbyterian Study Center, Montreat, “History of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, Smith County, TX.
[3]       East Texas Presbytery, Session records, Fall 1985.
[4]       Department: of History (Montreat), The Presbyterian Study Center, Montreat, NC, Eastern Texas Presbytery, Fall 1880.
[5]       Dickey, William Nathaniel, “Tyler Work”, a historical paper. The Rev. Dickey was an organizing pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Tyler, TX who wrote the piece shortly before his death in 1905.
[6]       Eastern Texas Presbytery at Longview, “Bethesda Presbyterian Church, Smith County, Texas, 1890. Records on file at Department of History (Montreat), Montreat, NC.
[7]       Ibid, Session Records. Vol. I, pp. 1 and 2.
[8]       Special Warranty Deed, State of Texas, County of Smith, Vol. 28, p. 261, recorded March 30, 1882.
[9]       Ibid, 23619, vol. 2573, p. 37.
[10]     Jones, Leila B., The Lindale News, May 14, 1959. Cemetery Records Smith County Texas, Vol. II, Northwest Quarter, Bethesda Cemetery, p. 24, copied May 6, 1882 Smith County Historical Society, Tyler, TX.
[11]     White, Thomas Ward, “Dedication Services at Bethesda Church,” the Christian Observer, Louisville, KY, Summer 1895.
[12]     Ibid.
[13]     Ibid.
[14]     Shores, Helen, a third—generation member of the church, daughter of Dolphus Crews, son of Harriet Caroline Crews Henderson.
[15]     Jones, Leila B., “History of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, “ Lindale News, May 14, 1959.
[16]     Bethesda Cemetery Association records, June 9, 1991.
[17]     Ibid, May 23, 1905.
[18]     Bethesda Cemetery records, Smith County Historical Society, Tyler, TX.
[19]     Wynnewood, OK, cemetery, Wynnewood, OK.
[20]     Gause Cemetery, Gause, TX.
[21]     Bethesda Cemetery records, Smith County Historical Society, Tyler, TX.
[22]     Bethesda Cemetery Association, Financial Report, May 31, 1993.
[23]     Hawkins, Minnie Lee Henderson, “History of Bethesda Cemetery,” a paper delivered at the annual Memorial Services, July 21, 1956.
[24]     Ibid.
[25]     Grun, Bernard, The Timetable of History, published in the United States by Simon and Schuster, New York, 1975.
[26]     Ibid.
[27]     Ibid.
[28]     Marshall, James Williams, Presbyterian Churches in Alabama 1811—1936, Part I, pgs. 234–236, The Cooling Spring Press, Montreat, NC, 1985.
[29]     Attendance records maintained annually by family members in permanent file.
[30]     McKay, Eunice Sybil Kennedy and daughters Sandra Coulter and Jean Taylor, genealogical records.
[31]     Bethesda Cemetery Association records.

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